IT Professionals – Can you have success without sacrifice?

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Firstly, let me get something off my chest…

My name is Christopher Lewis and I am a Certification Addict. It has been approximately 2 months since my last exam and over the last 15 years I have gained multiple associate, professional and advanced level certifications in Citrix, Microsoft and VMware products. 

Phew… that feels much better now that the elephant in the room has been addressed.

On a more serious note, I feel certifications are a necessary evil in the industry that I have chosen to work in and many of the IT certifications are a good indication of someone’s capability in a topic or technology.  Certifications are definitely not going away anytime soon, but being certified doesn’t make you an expert or a good IT Professional.

Why do I sacrifice my time?

I’m often asked by my friends and family why am I always ‘working’ (be that at the weekends or in the evenings) and why do I willingly sacrifice some of my family time for ‘work’.  It is a question I frequently ask myself, but my reply is always the same, “I’m not working I’m ‘studying’, there is a distinction and for me (or anyone) to be successful in something, it normally takes sacrifice”.  I try not to sacrifice all my family time (after all I’ll never get it back) but sometimes sacrifice is necessary to achieve a goal and I personally don’t feel that success can come without an element of sacrifice, be that time, money or both.

To me there is a big difference between my day job and my study time.  The reason I like to make the distinction is within my day job I do not normally get to choose what technologies I work with as it is normally defined by whatever that customer is looking to achieve.

News Flash: Nobody works in/for a democracy, you have a job, it is rarely perfect but you’re paid to do it and you should do it to the best of your ability ALL OF THE TIME.

I could be working with Microsoft Windows Server Hyper-V during the day because that’s what is required but I may choose to be studying Amazon Web Services (AWS) or VMware Technologies in the evenings because that’s my time and I get to choose the topics that I am interested in learning about.

Why do I take so many certifications exams?

That’s an easy question to answer, I like to push myself.  I like the pressure of learning a new subject, (if possible) applying it in a real-world situation and then taking the exam to see if I’m good enough to pass it.

Whether I pass or fail an exam, I like to think I have done the best I can do.  After so many exams, I like to think I am a good judge of whether I have passed or failed, but I still close my eyes and say a little prayer every time I click that End Exam button (unless of course I run out of time).  The time that passes between clicking that button and knowing whether you’re good enough seems to take forever, when it’s just a few seconds.  Luckily for me, I’ve passed more than I have failed (touch wood)!

What is the benefit of being a certified IT professional?

To me, the benefit of IT Certifications is about investing the time and energy in yourself and your career as well as proving to yourself and others that you can demonstrate a sufficient understanding of a technology/product.

With expert level certifications, such as the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX), I personally don’t think the actual end certification is the important part.  To me, if I am ever lucky enough to be deemed worthy of the VCDX, I would like to think that the journey I have taken and the skills I have learnt along the way will be far more valuable to me.  Don’t get me wrong, it would nice to be in an elite group of individuals (currently less than 250 worldwide) but I also think that there are a lot more people out there who do well in the IT Industry without being a VCDX.

What is the value of being a certified IT professional?

Well that is down to the individual but is not (necessarily) just about gaining certifications, but more about developing yourself.  As someone develops as an IT professional they will start to get an understanding of their value.  If you feel undervalued, then do something about it.  Just don’t (necessarily) expect your employer to put value on something you’ve done to improve yourself, when they can’t realise a benefit from it.

I’m a Certified VMware/Citrix/Microsoft/Cisco Professional, have I made it?

In my humble opinion, No.  IT Certifications (be they from Microsoft, Citrix, VMware or any other vendor) are not everything and, in my view, they are definitely not a substitute for real-life (demonstrable) experience.

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I am extremely proud of my MCSE, MCITP and MCSA certifications, I worked hard to obtain them.  But I remember (before I started on my certification journey) once meeting someone who was a MCSE in Windows 2000.  This person was given a job in the team I was working in based on the strength of the fact (amongst others) they were a MCSE.  However, this person didn’t know how to remotely log onto a server from their workstation or open Active Directory Users and Computers to create an AD User account.  Don’t get me wrong, I do realise we all have to start somewhere, but don’t go shouting about your skill/certifications unless you can back it up with at least the basics…

What makes a ‘Good’ IT Professional?

I personally think the role of an IT professional is like that of a chef.  A good chef is constantly developing new ideas, combining new flavours, learning new recipes and new techniques.  All that hard work, experience, experimentation and learning (hopefully) makes them a better chef and therefore enables them to get a better job, have more recognition and affords greater opportunities.

A ‘good’ IT Professional wants to keep up to date with different technologies, they want to learn and embrace new ideas and concepts whilst quickly gaining an understanding of emerging technologies but also maintain a broad spectrum of underlying core skills and aptitude.  After all, I don’t know many experts who are experts in everything.  They are normally an expert in one thing.

Remember, there is always someone who knows more than you, that’s just a fact of life. You may never meet that person, but believe me they exist.  Deal with it and move on.

My Final Thought…  

For an IT Professional, doing ‘ok’ shouldn’t be good enough.  ‘ok’ is what other people do, that’s something you will need to accept and work with, but don’t let it change who you are.  Remember as an IT Professional, you are already #AWESOME.

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